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EMT Miscellanea #1 – Fuel Stops

Fuel stops can be weird. I say this because you simply get used to the weirdness of any fuel stops you have in your home territory, but once you leave, the weirdness in other locales really hits you.

I’ll use my home territory as an example. Nearly 20 years ago here in British Columbia, a young man named Grant De Patie was killed after being dragged under a car for seven kilometers. Grant was working late at night at a gas station, and a car pulled up and pumped about $12.00 of gas, then began to leave. Grant was run over as he was copying down the licence plate of the car. This is a terrible and tragic story, to be sure. This lead to the Government of British Columbia passing Grant’s Law in 2008, which requires that all gasoline be pre-purchased, or purchased at the pump. Then there are the ultra-rare stations where someone still pumps your gas for you. It’s interesting to me that BC has not implemented (read: the government hasn’t permitted) completely automated pumps – when you pay at the pump, someone inside still has to press the button. However, this is the system we have in place – and the confusing weirdness that other people have to figure out when they come to BC.

We also have particular designs for our pumps. This is quite important, as pumps vary on a jurisdictional basis. Our pump nozzles are what many would feel are old fashioned – they are simply a nozzle, with a circular flap to prevent fuel from splashing back on the person that is pumping. Some, like the one at right, have the trigger lock, so that you can start the pump, lock the trigger, and go wash your windshield (or whatever). Interestingly, these seem to have been removed sometime around 2002 for unspecified safety reasons, but they are making a comeback. Anyway, this is what you can expect at most gas pumps in BC – and in most of Canada, to be honest. Simple, straightforward, and they’ve been like this for a couple of decades now.

So it would seem pretty simple. You use your credit card to pre-pay (or pre-pay inside, if you wish), set the dollar amount you want, lift the nozzle, press the button, and once the attendant has pressed their button, you pump. When done, hang up the nozzle. Simple right? You do it so often, whether car, motorcycle, or both, that it’s kind of muscle memory by now.

And then you travel….

I’m not kidding. Then you travel, and as soon as you do, it gets weird. Take my first stop for fuel, which was still in BC. I pulled up to the pump, but the automatic card reader part was not functioning. I had to go inside. Let me tell you how weird that is for BC. Because of Grant’s law, I’m amazed that the convenience store side can survive – I swear it survives on selling cold drinks, lottery, and cigarettes. So, as it was first thing in the morning and I needed none of those… I still went inside to pay. That presents the dilemma of “how much do you want”? Sorting it all out, I was paid, and I was off. However, that bit of hassle, that bit of grit of not being able to do it at the pump, it stuck with me as “different”.

So fine, then we bolt down into Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming… and it’s different. Much more liberal. The gas pumps are a lot like our Canadian nozzles. Pay at the pump works – and often works after hours. Rock up, pay with your card, and leave. This is the way our pumps in BC should work, frankly. We shouldn’t need someone to press a button when we are prepaying at the pump. We had a dozen days of quick, splash and go fuel stops, where the longest part was having a drink to beat the heat, rather than dorking around with the gas pump, trying to input the missile launch codes to get gas to go in my tank.

Then, we arrive in Washington. Fueling up in Washington State is a complete pain in the rear. Take a look at the photo at left. Many of the gas pumps in Washington have these accordion sleeves over the nozzle. These sleeves are to prevent gasoline vapours from escaping from the fuel tank and into the atmosphere. Those sleeves contain a switch in there somewhere, and that will not trigger until there is a tight seal between the nozzle and the fuel tank – the accordion has to be pushed in enough to trigger the switch, and there you go. If you want to go all nerdy on this, you can do so here, and here (PDF).

These things are a complete pain in the butt to use when you are filling a motorcycle. I have to physically pull those sleeves up myself at times in order to fill the top third of my bike’s gas tank. It makes riding in Washington painful – when riding there can be so darned beautiful.

Anyway, it just struck me as odd, the way there were such differences between jurisdictions and their laws, equipment, and even staffing for dispensing fuel. It was a mini adventure getting fuel sometimes (including the “let’s not get run over in the gas station” component). I like to think of that being one of the reasons we ride – to see and celebrate differences.

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